When will Apple release a new Mac mini in the UK? And what new features and design changes can we expect from the updated Mac mini in 2016?
A new Mac mini is expected to launch in 2016, since the line wasn't updated at all in 2015; but Apple (as usual) is giving nothing away. Nevertheless, based on past experience and the specs of current Macs, we've got a fair idea of what to expect from the new Mac mini, and when to expect it. We've got all the new Mac mini hints and rumours for you right here. Read on for the next Mac mini's likely release date, specs, design changes and new features.
We'll update this article whenever new information is unearthed, so check back regularly for the latest Mac mini update rumours.
Updated, 28 July 2016, with Kaby Lake processor launch news.
New Mac mini 2016 rumours: What is the Mac mini?
Not the no-brainer it might sound to keen mini-heads: plenty of otherwise tech-savvy folk aren't aware the Mac mini even exists. Indeed, sometimes it seems like Apple itself isn't aware of its presence. That would certainly explain the long gap before the 2014 model was launched.
The Mac mini is Apple's smallest desktop Mac and also its cheapest Mac, at £399. It's a full-blown OS X desktop that fits into a self-contained chassis no bigger than a set-top box. It's an inexpensive living-room Mac that lacks the power of even some MacBooks and comes with no keyboard, mouse or display, but one that works perfectly as the centre of your digital home - not least because it comes with HDMI sockets, so that plugging it into a modern TV is a doddle.
There used to be a Mac mini with OS X Server available for £849 but Apple removed that option from the line-up in October 2014.
New Mac mini 2016 rumours: Release date
When will the next Mac mini come out?
Apple last updated the Mac mini on 16 October 2014 after a two-year wait: the previous model came out on 23 October 2012. Mac mini fans are now waiting for the next iteration of the smallest and cheapest Mac. We're hopeful that it may come out this year, and recent history points to an update in autumn 2016.
(Of course, it isn't always that simple. Apple used to update the mini more frequently; before 2012 there were new models in 2009 (twice!), 2010 and 2011, and the more optimistic among Macworld's staff had expected Apple to announce a new Mac mini in the autumn of 2015, possibly alongside the new iMac with 4K Retina display, or at the same time as the El Capitan launch. But those opportunities have been and gone.)
One popular theory for a while was that the new Mac mini might make an appearance at WWDC 2016, which started on 13 June 2016 - but in the event, Apple didn't announce any new Macs at all. (Although Mac fans can console themselves with all the news about the forthcoming macOS Sierra operating system, and what that means for your current machine. You can install macOS Sierra on your Mac mini right now, if it's a 2010 model or later, but you'll need a developer account.)
We're looking forward to the next Mac mini update, not least because Apple has added new Skylake Intel processors to its laptops and desktops, leaving the Mac mini in the dust. In fact, the next generation of Intel chips is due near the end of 2016 - they're called Kaby Lake - and it's possible that the new Mac mini could feature processors from this batch. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We'll talk about processors, and other specs, in a later section of this article.
Also read: Mac mini vs MacBook Air
Apple, to paraphrase a colleague, is generally very good at killing its darlings: at knowing when it makes sense to drop a much-loved product or product feature - one which is often still popular and/or profitable - and switch focus to something else that has more of a future. Think the iPod classic or the optical drive. That's why rumours that it's going to drop the headphone port from the iPhone 7, or switch its digital music business entirely from downloads to streaming, seem so plausible.
There are a couple of candidates to be the next iPod classic. The MacBook Air is one. But the Mac mini, which hasn't been updated since 2014, is rarely mentioned at events, and feels surplus to requirements now that the Apple TV is making its claim as a media centre device (although for storing a large number of films the mini remains an excellent choice, offering 500GB as standard and up to 2TB as a configuration option), will be expecting a P45 more than most of Apple's product line-up.
The design of the Mac mini hasn't changed significantly since it was first launched and is starting to feel a little dated, and the device doesn't have a clear selling point (or at least, Apple isn't doing a good job of communicating one). So it wouldn't surprise us if Apple quietly retired the line at its next Mac launch event. It's either that or give it a radical overhaul.
If Apple does kill off the mini, we'd have to start asking questions about the 'mini' branding in general, and wondering if the iPads are going to be reorganised: there's already a sense that the 'Air' brand is on the way out, across both MacBooks and iPads. But that's a story for another day.
New Mac mini 2016 rumours: Price
How much will the next Mac mini cost?
There are currently three models of the Mac mini available; the one that's best for you will depend on your budget and computing needs. The cheapest model currently costs £399, the middle model is £569, and the priciest model is £799.
These prices ware significant because they marked a reduction of £100: previously the cheapest Mac mini was £499, for example. Of course, you'll still need to factor in the price of a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
However, we don't anticipate Apple reducing the price further with the new model when it launches, so you can expect similar pricing. Hopefully better specs for your money, though, of course. Which leads us on to...
The Mac mini is Apple's most budget-focused desktop system and as such features relatively low-end components. But what specs upgrades should we expect from the next Mac mini?
It's unlikely that Apple will include an AMD processor in the next generation of Mac minis... unlikely, but not out of the question, given that AMD's new CPUs are set to come out this year. We'd rate the chances of an AMD chip appearing in the 2016 Mac mini as slight.
So we're more likely waiting for an Intel chipset. It's possible that Apple has been waiting for Intel to ship the new Skylake chips before launching the new Mac mini, although Apple may settle for the Broadwell chips instead; that would still represent a power boost over the current Haswell processors. If the new Mac minis come out in very late 2016 or later, Intel may have begun volume production of the next generation of processors: Kaby Lake. Whether Apple is likely to squeeze the latest generation of chips into a budget machine is debatable.
As we discuss in our iMac rumour roundup, Intel has laid out a roadmap for its next four generations of processor. After Skylake, the next round of Intel processors, going into mass production in late 2016, will be Kaby Lake, followed in turn by Cannonlake, then Ice Lake in 2018 and Tiger Lake in 2019.
Kaby Lake uses a 14nm process, same as Broadwell and Skylake, but Cannonlake switches over to a more accurate 10nm process.
Update, 28 July 2016: Intel has started shipping its Kaby Lake processors, which support Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1 and DisplayPort 1.2. But the key word there is 'started': the Kaby Lake processors that would be suitable for a Mac mini may not appear for some months, assuming Apple decides to plump for a Kaby Lake chipset at all. Read more about the Kaby Lake launch on MacRumors.
Our iMac predictions also include new graphics chipsets: Polaris 10, by AMD, which is particularly interesting because it may make the next iMacs VR-ready. But the current range of Mac mini models feature integrated graphics, and we expect this to remain the case in the next generation.
Right now, the entry-level Mac mini features just 4GB RAM as standard, which we think should be ramped up to 8GB in the new entry-level model.
The other big change we hope to see in the new Mac mini is the addition of more flash drive options. Currently the 2.8GHz model comes with a Fusion Drive, or you can add 256GB flash storage to that model, or the 2.8GHz model.
While the 500GB hard drive in the current entry-level model (and the 1TB hard drive as standard in the £569 model) might appear attractive to some, flash memory is so much faster that we believe it is well worth the compromise of storing additional files on an external hard drive.
However, it seems unlikely that Apple would do away with the hard drive storage option altogether, as many workgroups choose the Mac mini as a server and will need the extra capacity and lower prices that HD storage makes possible.
It's felt like the USB port has been on borrowed time ever since Apple launched the first-gen 12-inch MacBook - with its lone USB Type-C (or, more commonly, just USB-C) port for both data and charging - in 2015. Like the optical drive circa 2012, it seems likely that bog-standard USB 3.0 is no longer in Apple's thoughts, and (unless the market rejects USB-C comprehensively, which despite some qualms about there only being one port on the MacBook, hasn't happened yet) it's surely a matter of time before the rest of the Mac line-up switches across to the newer tech.
USB-C offers more advantages than just being reversible and thereby easier to connect when you can't see what you're doing; in theory, it offers twice the data throughput of USB 3.0 and the ability to deliver far more power. The latter factor enabled Apple to use USB-C as a combined data and power port and further slim down its laptop design.
Our feeling is that the Mac mini won't be next on the list, however - our money's on the revamped MacBook Pro. As a budget-focused (and somewhat neglected) line, the Mac mini isn't likely to get the love and cutting-edge componentry of more favoured products. And power delivery - and the ability to remove extraneous ports and slim down the chassis - is far less of a concern for a static machine like the mini than for a portable like the MacBook.
New Mac mini 2016 rumours: Design
It's possible that the Mac mini will get a new design. We're not expecting a major visual or build redesign, but it is certainly possible that it could get thinner and smaller, especially since it no longer has to accommodate a CD drive.
Right now the dimensions are 3.6cm high, 19.7cm wide, and it weighs 1.22kg. How about a Mac mini that has similar dimensions to an Apple TV? (That's 9.8cm wide, 2.3cm high, and a weight of 0.27kg.)
There was some speculation that the reason for the long delay prior to the Mac mini update in 2014 was that Apple was looking at redesiging the Mac mini along the lines of the Mac Pro.
This was probably intended as an April Fool's Day prank, but we like this render of a flat Mac mini, as seen on Apple User.
Even better, how about a Mac mini that's also an Apple TV? Adding Apple TV functionality to a Mac mini would be a great way of getting the Mac mini into people's living rooms as a home entertainment device.